Best Time – Pruning Trees
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Best Time – Pruning Trees is a post that will not only explain when the best time to trim your trees is, but will also instruct you on the best time of year to prune and trim other plants, such as shrubs, evergreens, and roses. Depending on the type of Plant, whether it produces fruit or flowers, or whether it does not, there are specific times during the growing season to prune and trim each type, to help prevent shock to the Plant.
I will address each type of Plant, starting with the tallest to the shortest. Each type will be healthier if you prune and/or trim them according to these guidelines. Also, remember that any branches pruned/or trimmed on any Plant, that are larger in diameter than your thumb, should be sealed at the end with Pruning Paint to help prevent insect infestation and aid in the Plant’s healing process. Branches smaller than the diameter of your thumb should be sealed with Vaseline. Branches that are smaller in diameter than ½ the diameter of a pencil should be OK with no sealer needed, except for Roses. Roses, regardless of the diameter of the cut branch should always be sealed with Vaseline.
Any time a large limb on a Tree is dead or dying, whether from a lightning strike or other cause, it should always be cut off immediately, when noticed, to prevent injuries, regardless of the time of year. Safety first, and healthy Plants second is always the rule of thumb.
General Trimming and Pruning
Regardless of the type of Plant, you can encourage certain growth patterns through trimming and/or pruning. If you trim the Plant on the top only, you will encourage it to become larger in diameter. If you only trim the sides, you will encourage it to become taller. There is a given amount of food which will be absorbed by each Plant during each growing season, and the growth will be reflected most in the areas that are not trimmed. Overall trimming or pruning a Plant (top and sides) will result in a thicker, fuller, Plant.
Most Plants will go dormant during the winter months, and this is actually the best time to prune for most Plants. The exceptions are: any Plant that produces flowers. Flowering Trees and Shrubs should be pruned soon after they have stopped producing blooms for the season (within a week or two). The reason for this is, that soon after they stop blooming, they begin to start producing new buds for the next season’s blooms. If you wait too long to prune, you will be removing some of these buds, and the Plant will not flower as well the next year.
For Non-Flowering Plants, trimming during the dormant season should be done after the coldest part of the season has passed. For most of us in the USA, this will be during the last half of the month of February or the first half of March, for most years. Look at the long range weather forecast for unusual weather patterns which may nullify this general rule.
When Not to Prune or Trim
Since, decay fungi spread their spores profusely in the Fall, and healing of wounds due to pruning seems to be slower at this time of year, it is generally not a good idea to do any trimming during the Fall season. This will generally be during the months of October and November in most area in America. Only prune if absolutely necessary due to damage during these times.
Materials & Supplies Needed:
Since this is a labor only Project, there are no Materials and Supplies Needed. See the Tools and Supplies Needed area, next.
Tools & Supplies Needed:
- Safety Glasses
- Mechanics Work Gloves or Leather Work Gloves
- Steel-Toed Work Boots
- Ear Protection
- Chain Saw
- Chain Saw Blade Sharpener
- Flat File
- Round File
- Extension Ladder
- A-Frame Ladder
- Electric Trimmers
- Hand Trimmers
- Electrical Cords
- Machine Oil
- Nylon Cord
- Garbage Cans or Lawn Bags
- Pruning Paint
In order to purchase any Tools & Supplies Needed, see the appropriate page in any of the drop-down pages under: Home – Garden: Tools and Equipment List in my Top Menu.
Scroll down the list to find the correct item. You will find an explanation of that item, as well as, links under each item, which direct you to my Recommended Suppliers for you to check out their offerings.
Please review the information included here in the first 5 Steps, and then review my page: 5 Steps for Project Management. When you have completed those first 5 Steps, you can return here to continue on to Step 6.
Step 1 – Assess the Project
Begin by looking over your Landscaping. Start with the largest Trees first and work your way down to the smallest Shrubs. Take note of any dead branches, large and small. Also, take note of any Plants that may have a fungus, disease, or bugs affecting them. These problems will need to be addressed once your trimming has been completed.
When trimming, it will be best to start with the tallest Plants first and work your way down to the smallest. If you will be trimming any large Trees with a Chain Saw, make sure that you have an Assistant to steady the ladder.
Step 2 – Create a Materials & Tools Needed Sheet
Since this is a labor only Project, there are no Materials and Supplies Needed. Check all of the Tools that you will be using, making sure that they are all sharp and in good working order. If not, you will need to do this prior to starting the Project. Replace and/or purchase any Tools necessary.
Step 3 – Calculate Project Cost
(Follow the Instructions on the: 5 Steps for Project Management page.)
Step 4 – Order Your Materials & Tools Needed
(Follow the Instructions on the: 5 Steps for Project Management page.)
Step 5 – Inspect Your Delivery
After reviewing the information here, additional information to complete these first (5) Steps is found in the page: 5 Steps for Project Management. Simply click on that link and you will be directed there.
After completing those first (5) Steps, return to these Instructions and continue on to Step 6.
Step 6 – Sharpen All Tools Before You Trim
You definitely need sharp Tools before you begin to prune or trim your Plants. Dull Chain Saw blades will not cut very well. Dull Trimmers and Pruners will shred the ends of your Plants leaving them quite unsightly.
- The easiest way to sharpen a Chain Saw blade is with a Dremel and Chain Saw blade sharpener. Follow the instructions in the kit. If you do not have or want to purchase a Dremel and Chain Saw blade sharpener, you can sharpen the blades by hand with a File, but this will be more time-consuming. The important thing is to use the correct size Round File for the tooth size and keep the File at the correct angle. (Do not use a Rat Tail File or you will damage the blade.) Always sharpen in strokes going away from you, using the same number of strokes per tooth. Sharpen until sharp.
- Use a Round File on Electric Trimmer Blades. Always file in one direction, starting at the blade edge and moving inward. Hold your File in the same position for each and every stroke or you will round off your blade. Use the same number of strokes for each tooth. Sharpen until sharp. When you are finished sharpening your Electric Trimmers, apply a little Machine Oil to the inside bar where your blade rides back and forth. Plug your Trimmers in and run the blade for a couple of minutes to spread the Oil. Wipe off any excess with a clean Rag or some Paper Towels.
- To sharpen Loppers, Hand Trimmers, and Pruners, begin by scraping off any sap on the blades. You can either use your Pruners or a Putty Knife to scrape. Place the item that you are going to sharpen in your Vice, with the blade edge facing upward. Use a Flat File to sharpen Pruners, Loppers, and Hand Trimmers, keeping the File at the proper angle, using strokes from edge, inward. You should start at one end of the blade, and continue to move up or down the blade with each new stroke. Sharpen until sharp. Be sure to keep the File at the same angle or you will round the blade off.
Step 7 – Trimming Large Trees
Begin by removing any and all dead branches. Shape the tops of any Trees necessary in an arc. Remove any necessary internal branches. Then, trim the sides. Finally, remove any suckers from the trunk. Remember to use your Pruning Paint on the ends.
Pruning Non-Fruit Bearing Trees
- Begin with a visual inspection of each Tree from top to bottom. Begin by removing any dead branches that are present. Depending on the size of the dead branches, use the appropriate pruning device: Chain Saw for large branches, Loppers for medium-sized branches, and Pruners for small diameter branches. Then, begin shaping the Tree to the desired shape. Cut off any suckers that are growing out of the main trunk.
- Never remove more than ¼ of the crown of a Tree during a season, and do not prune up from the bottom, more than 1/3 of the Tree’s height. You final cuts of all branches should be about ¼” beyond a healthy bud or other branch.
- Eliminate internal branches that are rubbing on others or are not growing in an attractive manner. Do not overdo it, but remove branches to get more even spacing.
- Lower limbs can be pruned off to raise the height for head clearance. Be sure that the branches that you are choosing to remove will not make the overall Tree unattractive. You may need to wait a couple of years to prune some of them, once the Tree grows taller.
Pruning Fruit Bearing Trees
- The best time to prune Fruit Bearing Trees depends on your goals. If your intention is to encourage growth and a better harvest, than during the dormant season, after the coldest part of the season has passed is best. If your Fruit Tree is already too large, you can prune it back, up to 25%, during the summer months. Pruning at this time of year will reduce future growth.
Step 8 – Know the Species and the Best Time to Trim Shrubs and Evergreens
You must know what species each of your Plants is before you can know when the best time to trim them. If there are some that you can not identify, take a clipping to your local Nursery or Garden Center and identify them. If necessary, write the species down on paper and file it.
Start trimming the tallest Evergreens or Shrubs first. Surround each one with a Tarp prior to trimming, especially if you have mulch or decorative stone beds. Decide on each Plants shape before you begin trimming it.
Non-Flowering and Flowering Shrubs
- You must know the species of each of your Shrubs in order to know if they flower and when, or not. If you do not know the species of your Plant, you can always take a small 3” to 6” clipping and bring it to your local Nursery or Garden Center for identification. You can either walk the lot and try to match it up yourself, or ask for assistance from a staff member to help you identify it.
- Non-Flowering Shrubs should be trimmed during the month June, and can touched up during the first half of September. Flowering Shrubs should be trimmed within a week or two of the end of their blooming for the season. As I mentioned earlier, if you wait longer than that, you will be cutting off the new buds that are being produced. This will reduce the Plants Flowers for the following season.
- The best time for the trimming of Evergreens will vary by species. If you do not know the species of your Plant, you can always take a small 3” to 6” clipping and bring it to your local Nursery or Garden Center for identification.
- Prune Pines in the Spring as the new growth emerges. Prune 1/2 to 1/3 of the new growth, but do not prune back to the woody stems. Shearing of Pines are not recommended. When older Pines are overgrown, the only option usually is to remove an entire branch.
- Prune/Trim Arborvitae in early spring or mid-summer.
- Prune/Trim Yews and Junipers in late winter or early spring and again toward the end of June. Touch up as needed through the Summer, but do not prune/trim after August.
- Most Evergreens, especially older ones, will develop a dead-zone in the center of the plant where no sunlight gets in. When pruning or trimming, do not cut back into this dead-zone, since no new growth will appear there.
Step 9 – How to Shape Plants Correctly
Certain types of Plants are more conducive to growing in a certain shape. Some will naturally grow round, while others will naturally grow in a cone shape. Knowing your Plants and how they grow naturally will help you when you begin to trim them. It is very difficult to keep a Plant trimmed into a shape that is not natural for it. As I stated earlier, if you do not know what type of Plant you have, take a small clipping to your local Nursery or Garden Center and identify it. Then, go online, and see what shape is normal for each Plant. Trim your Plants accordingly.
- If you have never trimmed a Plant before, it may be a little intimidating at first. Do not be scared that you will screw it up. They will grow back. Begin by looking each Plant over all the way around before you begin to trim. Know the shape that you want to create. Envision it in your mind.
- Once you have an idea of how much you want to remove, and the shape you intend to create, put on your Gloves and surround the Plant with a Tarp, old sheet, or old blanket. This is especially important if your beds contain Mulch or Rock. This will save you a ton of time during the clean up. Be sure to push the Tarp close to the ground and right up against the trunk of the Plant, not covering up any branches of the Plant.
- If you are tackling an overgrown Plant, know that you should not cut back more than 1/3 of the Plant in a season. Begin with your Pruners or Loppers and cut any thick and long branches about ½” past the depth that you want the finished Plant to be. If the ends need to be sealed, do that now. Then, take your Pruners and rough shape the Plant (If you are experienced at Trimming, you may skip this Step).
- Beginning on the sides, use your Electric Trimmers or Hand Trimmers and begin to fine shape the Plant. If you are not sure of yourself, take off small amounts at a time, until you basically have the shape that you want. You can then go back over the entire Plant and take more off if needed. Once you have the sides where you want them, then do the top. You will need to pick off the trimmings as you work, so that you can see the trimmed Plant better. If you are using Electric Trimmers, once you are close to where you want the Plant to be, you can fine tune it with your Hand Trimmers or Pruners.
- When you are finished trimming one Plant, pick up any clippings that fell outside of your Tarp, carefully roll the Tarp up, and dispose of the clipping in a can or lawn bag. Then, spread the Tarp back out around the next Plant. Repeat the process until you have finished all of your trimming.
Step 10 – Prune Roses
Pruning Rose Bushes should not be intimidating. They just need to be pruned a certain way for best results. You should be pruning just before the plant come out of dormancy, after the Spring’s final frost. Prune away the dead wood first. This will help you get a better feel for the general shape of the Plant. Moderate pruning (leaving 5 to 12 canes cut to 18 to 24 inches in length) will make for a larger Bush. Roses should be pruned with a good pair of pruners; ones with both blades curved. Pruners with a flat anvil on one blade will tend to crush rather than clean cut the canes. Be sure to wear a good pair of Leather Gloves to avoid getting poked by the thorns.
- Once you prune the deadwood back to healthy green bark, prune the center to keep it airy. Make all of your cuts at a 45-degree angle, and about 1/4 inch above a leaf axle. Choose a leaf on the outside of the cane and slope the cut down and toward the center of the plant. This will allow the natural sap to rise and seal the cut without interfering with the developing eye. Cuts made less than 1/4 inch above the leaf axle may damage it. Cuts more than 1/4 inch above the leaf axle will leave a visible stubble. This will leave the Plant open to both pests and disease. Always seal the ends of the cut canes with Vaseline.
Once everything has been trimmed to your satisfaction, clean up your Tools and resharpen them, so they will be ready for the next time that you need to trim.
Well, there you have it; all of the Instructions needed to prune and trim the Plants on your property. Follow these suggestive guidelines, and you will have amazing Landscaping each and every year.
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